From "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

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cheshire

Senior Member
Japanese
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751)

Which is the subject in the second line?
1. all the air​

2. a solemn stillness​
I guess 2 is the subject of the sentence.:confused:
 
  • cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks JeffJo!

    Since the fourth line the S-V relation is inverted, doesn't that also apply in the second sentence, as is often the case in poem that a second and fourth line are rhymed together?
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    My interpretation:

    --And a solemn stillness holds all the air.
     

    JeffJo

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, English
    ~~~
    Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
    And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
    Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
    And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
    ~~~

    Subjects - Verbs - Objects, for each line.....

    landscape - fades - (no object, intransitive 'fade' is used)
    air - holds - stillness
    beetle - wheels - flight
    tinklings - lull - folds

    That's how I read it. Line 4 means the folds of sheep are lulled by the tinklings of their own bells. A "fold" of sheep is a flock.
     

    expenseroso

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    To put it in mundane language, I read it as:

    And all the air a solemn stillness holds
    Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight

    =

    Solemn stillness is pervasive
    except when the beetles chirp
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    To put it in mundane language, I read it as:

    And all the air a solemn stillness holds
    Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight

    =

    Solemn stillness is pervasive
    except when the beetles chirp
    Agreed. But.........So much for the beauty of poetry :D (just kidding)
     

    JeffJo

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, English
    Thank you, I have misinterpreted the poem.
    No, it appears I have. A quick check of standard commentary on the poem makes "stillness" the subject of line 2, and "air" the object. That appears to be the consensus of interpretation.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My interpretation:

    --And a solemn stillness holds all the air.
    Don't you think, my dear Nichec, that the poet Gray, even on one of his best evenings, would have expected the reader to take the first noun phrase as the subject?

    I agree that a solemn stillness holds all the air makes as much or as little sense as all the air holds a solemn stillness.

    I think the poet was after an onomatopoeic effect, and thinking of such things as the moan of doves in immemorial elms and the murmuring of innumberable bees.
     

    expenseroso

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Object - Subject - Verb is a common poetic construction. Also, it seems quite clear that the speaker means that night has come ("Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight") which is why the stillness is broken only by the sound of beetles (not doves, etc.).
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    It's a big difference whether "A cat bites a mouse." or "A mouse bites a cat."
    The sentence in question doesn't seem to have such problem...

    Thank you guys!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Object - Subject - Verb is a common poetic construction. Also, it seems quite clear that the speaker means that night has come ("Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight") which is why the stillness is broken only by the sound of beetles (not doves, etc.).
    I may have missed a trick here, Expenseroso; are you saying that there are indications in the third and fourth lines of the stanza as to what we should take as the subject in the second?

    I don't think there's any doubt about what time of day it is.
     

    expenseroso

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    I'm not sure what you mean by trick; I think it's quite clear from the second line alone what the subject is. I may have missed a trick in your wringing onomatopoeia out of common poetic phrasing.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Okay guys, we need a woman's touch here :D

    We all agree that the poem refers to the evening.

    And I agree with TT that the poet is after some sound effect by mentioning the silence and stillness (I mean, such sounds can only be heard when it's all quiet, and they seem to have lives of their own in the darkness of the night.)

    I tend to read it the way expenseroso does, but I agree that it doesn't make more or less sense by reading it the other way round. Poetry doesn't need to have a meaning, to me. It's the beauty of it that we are after, right, gentlemen? :D
     

    JeffJo

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, English
    ... Poetry doesn't need to have a meaning, to me. It's the beauty of it that we are after, right, gentlemen? :D
    Well, when I look at writing in Chinese, it is impossible for me to see poetry in it, because it has no meaning for me. It sort of resembles miniature architectural drawing. I see it as drawing, to which the word "poetry" can't have any literal application. Where there's no language meaning, I could only apply the word "poetry" figuratively, with no more real significance than speaking of the "poetry" of toothbrushing. Writing must have some meaning to be categorized, literally, as poetry.

    But back to the topic, I now take it that "stillness" is the subject of line 2 because the stillness is the point of the statement. Air is only a given, at any time of day. It's about the stillness, not the air.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm not sure what you mean by trick; I think it's quite clear from the second line alone what the subject is. I may have missed a trick in your wringing onomatopoeia out of common poetic phrasing.
    Perhaps it's a BE expression: to miss a trick, to fail to spot a point made, perhaps implicitly, by one's interlocutor.

    The first three stanzas of Gray's elegy set the scene in a very intense and personal way - it's obvious that some very strong statement of emotion is coming: I'm confident that he intends the cadences of the poem to reflect his mood that evening at Stoke Poges, evoked or real. That's what I meant by onomatopoeia and why I cited the Tennyson poem.

    You may be right about the subject in the second line, but I'd like you to give a few more reasons to justify your view. If it's 'quite clear', then you should be able to debunk the obvious alternative.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Well, when I look at writing in Chinese, it is impossible for me to see poetry in it, because it has no meaning for me. It sort of resembles miniature architectural drawing. I see it as drawing, to which the word "poetry" can't have any literal application. Where there's no language meaning, I could only apply the word "poetry" figuratively, with no more real significance than speaking of the "poetry" of toothbrushing. Writing must have some meaning to be categorized, literally, as poetry.

    But back to the topic, I now take it that "stillness" is the subject of line 2 because the stillness is the point of the statement. Air is only a given, at any time of day. It's about the stillness, not the air.
    Meaning is a tricky thing. (yeap, I am a believer of post-modernism) The fact is, we are all just trying to make our own interpretations here. The only one who knows the real intended meaning is the poet himself (if he does know what he means, that is :D According to Plato, no, he doesn't)
    That's why I said what I said.:)

    But, back to the poem. Neither the stillness nor the air is capable of "holding" anything, this is obviously "poetry language". That said, I don't see much difference between "All the air holds a solemn stillness" and " A solemn stillness holds all the air", they all mean that there's a sense of solemn stillness in the air. But I kind of agree with cheshire that in order to match nicely with the fourth sentence, the second one can be inverted as well.
     

    expenseroso

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Perhaps it's a BE expression: to miss a trick, to fail to spot a point made, perhaps implicitly, by one's interlocutor.

    The first three stanzas of Gray's elegy set the scene in a very intense and personal way - it's obvious that some very strong statement of emotion is coming: I'm confident that he intends the cadences of the poem to reflect his mood that evening at Stoke Poges, evoked or real. That's what I meant by onomatopoeia and why I cited the Tennyson poem.

    You may be right about the subject in the second line, but I'd like you to give a few more reasons to justify your view. If it's 'quite clear', then you should be able to debunk the obvious alternative.
    I say it is "quite clear" because the verb follows the noun "stillness." Also, taking "all the air" as the agent in the second line doesn't make sense, given that the air's agency would be undermined in the third line. Either way, I still don't hear any onomatopoeia.

    As for your comment that the poet would have expected the reader to take the first noun phrase as the subject, let's examine a few other lines from the same poem:

    "On some fond breast the parting soul relies"
    "Some pious drops the closing eye requires"

    By your rationale, "Some pious drops require the closing eye," and "Some fond breast relies on the parting soul."
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I say it is "quite clear" because the verb follows the noun "stillness." Also, taking "all the air" as the agent in the second line doesn't make sense, given that the air's agency would be undermined in the third line. Either way, I still don't hear any onomatopoeia.

    As for your comment that the poet would have expected the reader to take the first noun phrase as the subject, let's examine a few other lines from the same poem:

    "On some fond breast the parting soul relies"
    "Some pious drops the closing eye requires"

    By your rationale, "Some pious drops require the closing eye," and "Some fond breast relies on the parting soul."
    I must have provoked you in some way, for which I apologise.
     

    JeffJo

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, English
    ... But, back to the poem. Neither the stillness nor the air is capable of "holding" anything, ...
    Well, the air is capable of holding any number of things, quite literally: all sorts of vapors, buoyant objects like bubbles and balloons, and, if I go on too much about the physical properties of air, it'll lose all poetry, except for those who think "poetry" means finding a rhyme for "smog."

    Figurative meaning is a significant property of poetry. I would say. The literal possibility of air holding something is that much less reason to take it as the subject of ye olde line 2. "Stillness" is, if not mandated, at least preferable as the subject, for the reason that it's less likely (if likely at all) to be holding anything, literally. "Air" might imply poetry, but "stillness" necessitates it. 'Tis the logic of poetry -- which could not exist without meaning, for, without meaning, what is figurative? That's why I see no poetry in Chinese writing, I can't see the meaning to tell, logically, what's figurative.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Well, the air is capable of holding any number of things, quite literally: all sorts of vapors, buoyant objects like bubbles and balloons, and, if I go on too much about the physical properties of air, it'll lose all poetry, except for those who think "poetry" means finding a rhyme for "smog."

    Figurative meaning is a significant property of poetry. I would say. The literal possibility of air holding something is that much less reason to take it as the subject of ye olde line 2. "Stillness" is, if not mandated, at least preferable as the subject, for the reason that it's less likely (if likely at all) to be holding anything, literally. "Air" might imply poetry, but "stillness" necessitates it. 'Tis the logic of poetry -- which could not exist without meaning, for, without meaning, what is figurative? That's why I see no poetry in Chinese writing, I can't see the meaning to tell, logically, what's figurative.
    Okay, don't shoot, I surrender :p

    As a lover of all arts, I try to "read" them with my intuition. And I read it as "And a solemn stillness holds all the air" the first time I saw it. This much is clear to see from my first post in this thread, I believe. I am just trying to explore other possibilities here. I admit I don't know much about this poet and his works, and that's one of the big reasons why I shouldn't try to make any assumptions or interpretations on this poem. I am sorry about that, and I think it's time for me to shut my big mouth up. :eek:
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Okay, don't shoot, I surrender :p

    As a lover of all arts, I try to "read" them with my intuition. And I read it as "And a solemn stillness holds all the air" the first time I saw it. This much is clear to see from my first post in this thread, I believe. I am just trying to explore other possibilities here. I admit I don't know much about this poet and his works, and that's one of the big reasons why I shouldn't try to make any assumptions or interpretations on this poem. I am sorry about that, and I think it's time for me to shut my big mouth up. :eek:
    My dear Nichec, I've got a suggestion: the poet Gray was being deliberately obscure. Knowing that the air holding the stillness was as absurd or sensible as the stillness holding the air, he deliberately left the matter uncertain, like those pictures of the inside of boxes which can also be the outside of boxes and flicker in and out, so that we would have something to puzzle over two hundred and fifty years later. This was not my totally original idea, I hasten to add, but culled from the first analysis of the poem I dredged up on the internet. Here's the quote: “And all the air a solemn stillness holds” where the ambiguity of object and subject imparts the line with so much of its power. Why leaving the reader in confusion on so important a point should be regarded as a strength in poetry, when it would be a weakness in prose, is not a point on which the critic was ready to elaborate. Nevertheless, what he says shows that we are not the only ones to be puzzled by the point, and it may be that the fuzz of meaning has caused people to concentrate on the mood being evoked. For what it's worth, I must have read the poem a hundred times and had never considered the matter until Cheshire perceptively raised the issue.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    My dear Nichec, I've got a suggestion: the poet Gray was being deliberately obscure. Knowing that the air holding the stillness was as absurd or sensible as the stillness holding the air, he deliberately left the matter uncertain, like those pictures of the inside of boxes which can also be the outside of boxes and flicker in and out, so that we would have something to puzzle over two hundred and fifty years later. This was not my totally original idea, I hasten to add, but culled from the first analysis of the poem I dredged up on the internet. Here's the quote: “And all the air a solemn stillness holds” where the ambiguity of object and subject imparts the line with so much of its power. Why leaving the reader in confusion on so important a point should be regarded as a strength in poetry, when it would be a weakness in prose, is not a point on which the critic was ready to elaborate. Nevertheless, what he says shows that we are not the only ones to be puzzled by the point, and it may be that the fuzz of meaning has caused people to concentrate on the mood being evoked. For what it's worth, I must have read the poem a hundred times and had never considered the matter until Cheshire perceptively raised the issue.
    :thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:
    I know that you'll come to rescue me, sooner or later. I waited for you, and here you are. (now that's poetic enough, I suppose :D)

    Frankly, I don't like to read poetry in such a serious and grammatical way, but I do love the explanation in your post. I kept repeating that both ways are acceptable to me, but well................Sadly, after all this fuss, the solemn stillness in the air is gone, and I've lost all my interest to "feel" the beauty of this poem.......
     

    kenny4528

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Hi, another resource:

    Take the line “And all the air a solemn stillness holds” from English poet Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. It is wonderfully ambiguous, capable of being interpreted as “all the air holds a solemn stillness” (where “all the air” is the subject) or “a solemn stillness holds all the air” (where “a solemn stillness” is the subject).
    Here
     
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